Open any newspaper, nearly any day of the week, and you will find a story about corruption. If not corruption, then some distasteful legal or semi-legal form of self-enrichment associated with government business: excessive salaries for civil servants, bonuses for incompetent Eskom executives, exorbitant lease deals etc. The news stories are no longer about thousands of Rand, they are about millions – tens, even hundreds of millions. Increasingly it appears that the government is looting our country, and they are not even doing it quietly.
Then there are the stories of poor service delivery, of a failing health system, a still dysfunctional education system, worries about water quality, power shortages, the examples of government ineptitude go on. The two types of story are not unrelated. If you loot the state, the state cannot deliver. If the requirement for a top position is allegiance to the party, and not ability to do the job, there are going to be problems. So, are we just going stand by and watch? The media is playing it’s part (while it still can) in bringing these stories to light, but are we just going to read them and think, that’s bad, and then go on with our day? Maybe complain a bit to a friend? Have we really become so accepting of injustice that we are content to stand aside and let these things happen?
It is natural to think that these problems are too large and the ANC is too powerful for any of us to do anything about the current situation. Too large for an individual perhaps, but together we can do something, remembering that the aim of the struggle was not ‘the ANC shall govern’ it was ‘the people shall govern’. Is it not time that we reaffirm our role as leaders? Not time that we let politicians know that they are public servants and not royalty? Until the ANC is reminded that this is a democracy, we will continue to have a government that limits us. It is a mistake to pin your hopes on changes in party leadership, the incentive structure is all wrong. The power struggles are for control of the party, not for votes in national, provincial or local elections. When you are battling to control a party, favors for key actors become very important, and patronage networks can carry you to high office. When you are battling for votes, service delivery, and efficient and honest government become much more important. But with no fear of defeat, the ANC is not worried about winning votes.
So should we all vote for the DA? Well you can if you like, but I never will, and I guess that many people feel the same. It is proving hard for the DA to shake free of its historical baggage. It may now have a few people of color in key positions, and even a growing black membership, but to many they are seen as crossing over to the other side, not as building a representative opposition. Moreover, the DA defines itself by being anti-ANC, what we need is a party that is pro-democracy.
The actions of the ANC have created the potential for a new opposition. An opposition made up of a broad range of South Africans with common goals. People, who historically would have been adversaries, now have shared interests. Business leaders and shack dwellers both want effective government. Unemployed youth and bank CEOs both want the economy to grow and create jobs – something that is currently constrained by ineptitude and corruption. Taxi passengers and BMW drivers alike do not want e-tolls to pay-off inefficient road construction – inefficient because tenders went to friends? In fact, anyone not on the gravy train has an interest in bringing it to a halt. Of course such groups will differ regarding what they think an effective government should do. But agreement that we need effective government and that a new powerful broad based opposition is the only way to effective government should be something to build around.
A new party would not have to win. If we can just make the ANC nervous, corruption will decline and delivery will improve. Even those who support the ANC should be happy to see a new and powerful opposition. Within the ranks of the ANC are many good and competent people who are committed to creating a better South Africa. Once the ANC is worried about losing the next election, the party will look to these people to help them win votes. The only people who should object are those who benefit from the looting.
Thanks to past sacrifices we are lucky enough to have a democracy, let’s use it. Don’t just watch it all go wrong.